Most competitive athletes, no matter their age, can recall a defining personal athletic moment: sprinting across the finish line ahead of the field; dodging epic tackles to score the winning touchdown; swishing an unbelievable three-pointer at the buzzer. You got up early, practiced hard, and stayed late. You slept well and ate right because you knew it would improve your performance.
These are the proud stories we tell around the dinner table—but they might have taken place 10, 20, 30, or even 40 years ago! Today, your fitness focus might be a good deal different, or nonexistent. But in your chest, there still beats the heart of an athlete. You just need to find your way back.
The good news is that, for most of us, there’s still plenty of time to get strong, play hard, and have fun! However, it will involve setting new goals and renewing a healthy relationship with your current body. Whether you’re thinking about getting back into your sport or trying a new one, it’s important to take a long-term approach to your training and health.
Below are four principles of training you should tackle before coming back to competitive sport:
Define your why.
The secret to staying motivated is getting your priorities in order. Why do you want to start training again? Why do you want to train for this particular race? These questions are essential for any athlete. When you inevitably get sucked into pace times, sweaty workouts, fancy gadgets, and the latest equipment, you’ll need to keep track of your personal why.
Walk before you run.
This simply means to take your time learning how to run/swim/bike etc. before trying to go fast. Learning new movements and techniques don’t just require your physical presence, but also your mental awareness. It’s important to understand your body’s movements, how they feel, and how to improve. Those initial months of training are for accumulating physical knowledge and creating good habits—developing discipline for both your body and your mind.
Assess, don’t test.
First things first, find a good coach! Effective coaches balance rationale and logic with empathy and emotional awareness. Ultimately, a long-term program should be individualized, and should start with finding your baseline with a coach. What’s your athletic background? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are your goals? A good coach will also assess rather than test when determining your program.
The words “test” and “assessment” are used interchangeably, but they do mean something different. A test measures a particular set of objectives, while an assessment is used during and after the instruction has taken place. Learning a sport takes individual effort, interaction, inspiration, and thought—and especially as you are coming back into a sport, “testing” can sometimes undermine the best learning environment. “Assessing” your abilities instead is an encouraging method to help outline your training and monitor your improvement going forward.
You might be participating in an individual sport, but it takes an army to get it done at the end of the day. Having a supportive base at the home front and a cheer squad on race day can mean the difference between a PR and a DNF. Groups and clubs create a positive training environment, and can also help you get involved with a community. There will be some people who can push you and others you can challenge along the way—and very possibly some new lifelong friends.
Thank you to Lauren Babineau for her contribution to this article.